Two Wisconsin lawmakers are proposing three bills to help Wisconsin’s pollinator species.
It’s called the “Pollinator Protection Package, and it was unveiled earlier today by State Senator Melissa Agard, a Democrat from Madison and State Representative Lee Snodgrass, a Democrat from Appleton. Senator Agard says steps to protect pollinators are crucial.
“Over the past 30 years, Wisconsin’s native pollinator populations have suffered severe losses due to human development, improper pesticide use, invasive pests, and diseases. And because of this and other factors, we’ve seen an over 60 percent decrease in pollinator populations in our state,” says Agard.
The bills come as pollinators – bees, yes, but also butterflies, moths, bats and birds – are facing a severe population decline. The United States Department of Agriculture cites a combination of factors for pollinator decline, including pathogens, exposure to pesticides and other chemicals, loss of habitat, loss of species and genetic diversity, and climate change.
This package of bills would target one of those key factors – pesticides.
The bills would prevent the state from using a type of harmful pesticide in protected wildlife areas, allow local governments to regulate pesticides to protect pollinators, and make sure that plants containing certain pesticides can’t be labeled as “pollinator friendly.”
One common type of pesticide, neonicotinoids or ‘neonics,’ have been linked to colony collapse disorder, which harms bee colonies.
The proposed bills would not regulate these pesticides on privately-owned agricultural land, which takes up a huge portion of the state. That would be up to local governments, so it’s uncertain whether the use of neonics would significantly reduce as a result of these bills.
Using less pesticide is likely to help pollinators, but pesticide isn’t the only factor contributing to their decline.
A new Ecology Letters report tracks the decline of bumblebee populations in the Great Lakes region over the past 150 years. It attributes bee decline to growing industrial farmland – and the resulting decline of plant diversity and abundance.
Christelle Guédot is an associate professor of entomology at UW-Madison. She says establishing more habitat for pollinators could help them out.
“So having more habitats for them, and more connectivity between those habitats, and not have, like, islands of habitat for pollinators, would really help in bringing those populations – not necessarily back to where they were, but improving in their abundance and diversity,” says Guédot.
The loss of bees and other pollinators directly threatens our food supply and other plant species. According to the USDA, bees alone add $15 billion in crop value each year. Senator Agard breaks down those numbers for Wisconsin:
“In Wisconsin, pollinators contribute over 55 million dollars in annual crop production, 3.5 million dollars in commodities, and in fact one in three bites of food that we all consume is thanks to pollinators,” says Agard.
Locally, the City of Madison has made some steps towards rebuilding native habitats by establishing pollinator plantings full of native grasses, flowers, and shrubs. Madison has also been a “Bee City” since 2017, part of a national program committed to restoring habitats and using less pesticides.
The pollinator bills come during National Pollinator Week, which began on Monday, June 21st. The legislation, introduced today, is headed to the state assembly and senate for consideration.
PHOTO: Seeger Gray